Last summer, I got to sit with Dwayne Patrick Calizo in the park by Yerba Buena Center, in San Francisco for a couple of hours. I was expecting we might be there for a half hour, maybe 45 minutes. Dwayne was becoming the centerpiece of our version of City Council Meeting at Zspace the next week. Our conversation would maybe lead to some material. I was slightly impatient to get the job done when I got there. His generosity of spirit, his complete honesty and openness made the whole day slow down.
We talked about the changing face of his city, about how good his mother looked at 80, how he used to be a back-up singer for notorious and famous people, about how his friends had become his family, about a lot of other things. We were watching the city he knew become replaced by a ghost image of itself. We made a eulogy for the city he arrived in that no longer lived the way it did; I didn’t know it would become a eulogy for him, too.
So few of our NYC friends got to see Dwayne sing Dido’s Lament at the top of the risers, beautifully co-directed by Mallory and Erika, designed by Jim. The light blasted all of us at the end. I think I was nervous about the cost of the instrument. Dwayne shone on his own, and I can’t imagine how many people have been lit by him at one time or another.
Dwayne died the other day, unexpectedly. This is what we made together. Much love.
Dwayne Calizo – for City Council Meeting: San Francisco
By Dwayne Calizo and Aaron Landsman
This text was spoken by a 15-year-old boy. Dwayne and I made it out of our conversation in the park. In the show, every time Dwayne got uncomfortable with what was being said, he rang a bell on his desk, like the kind you see in old hotels. We moved on to the next sentence.
City Council Meeting: San Francisco’s ending was co-directed by Erika Chong Shuch and Mallory Catlett, and designed by Jim Findlay. Presented by Zspace.
Dwayne Calizo. Childhood in Hawaii, Okinawa, Hawaii again. Lived in San Francisco two – or is it three – times since 1982. Most recently returned here, a year ago, after a five-year absence. Has worked with Erika’s company for many years. His voice is fair, meaning, communicates fairness. You want to believe everything.
Dwayne’s family had a kind of Partridge Family-style band in Okinawa, and Dwayne was the lead singer, and they would go to Tokyo and play on TV. On contests. Like American Idol?
In college he was a for-hire backup singer for Don Ho and Jim Neighbors in Hawaii.
Don Ho was a drunk. A crazy drunk. Jim Neighbors was a really kind and generous man. That is how Dwayne got through college. People like Don Ho and Jim Neighbors would come to play and hire students to sing back up.
I don’t know what the outfits were, for back-up singers. But don’t you want to know what they wore onstage? Don’t you want to be able to remember this little bit of his life with him?
If you sit in the park by the MLK fountain together, memories are alive, and also dead.
When he first got here in 1982 he saw what was happening in the Castro. The first wave of the AIDS crisis. He thought, “I have to leave this place or I am going to die.” So he left and came back a few years later.
His HIV status has been positive for 25 years.
Stage fright gets worse as you get older. The first ten seconds of time onstage. The first minute. Impossible to even remember.
Homeless for three years. He liked being homeless. He liked sleeping outside. A safe place to sleep at that time was City Hall Park, and the Food Not Bombs people would distribute food from the middle of the pond, because the police wouldn’t go out there. And so they’d all go out to the middle of the pond to eat.
There was a space at that time for queers. Punks. There were groups of them everywhere. People worked restaurant jobs and then hung out and made art. What is not to love about that?
He ran a theater company and a music school that was mostly for queer people of color, and he has suitcases of archive material from all the shows they made. He wrote five musicals, some with his former partner, who’s now his best friend. He is collaborating all the time. A conversation is collaborative. You never know where you might end up.
Once he presented 200 artists in six days at Yerba Buena. That almost killed him. He’s given up on the cycle of working for two years without a break and then just crashing. He’s laid that cycle to rest.
But he has these suitcases with all these things in them. Pictures and scripts and videos. Old tapes.
Dwayne was away for four years and came back a year ago and the place was unrecognizable. The place makes him want to go off the grid. He’s thinking about Detroit. The open space of. The decay. And the music history that’s there.
He puts three fingers of one hand over the center of his chest, and then points them to the sky and then places them on the ground, in the same measured rhythm. This is how he describes what singing feels like.
At the same time he is talking about the possibility of not singing any more, that this is the end of performing.
Dwayne’s mom is 80 years old and living in Vegas. She is still sexy as hell. Do you ever think about taking care of your mother when she is older? He might do that. She might move back to Hawaii because she is getting much older, and he might go back and take care of her with his family.
Dwayne lives in an SRO, which is kind of like being homeless, which probably impacts the way the city feels to him now. There is black mold in the room and it’s not safe outside and the city won’t do anything about it. People say, ‘why don’t you move.’
He does not feel a lot of hope in this place. Does admitting that become a hopeful thing? Or is it just hopeless. Even the people he knows who work in the Mayor’s housing office are just waiting to go. They don’t feel a lot of hope.
Sitting in the park by the MLK memorial fountain, we are wondering, who are all these people. I’ve never seen so many people out here. They are very normal.
It’s not that the whole city needs to be full of fucked up people to be okay. It’s that this has been a place where young queer punk people can gather and be.
What are pathways we make that don’t look possible? What does it cost to pave them over?
When I asked him if he wanted to eulogize something about the city he said the Dido’s Lament that he’s singing is his eulogy. It’s what he’d like to say.